“What do you think I should write about today?” I ask my daughters as we walk to school Having discarded at least two of my ideas for today’s blog, I’ve decided to seek their counsel.
“Exams,” says the 11-year old. “If I were a headmistress, I’d ban them.”
“Mean parents,” says her 7-year old sister.
Exams and mean parents: a pretty good summary of what life in our house has been like for the past couple of months. The older daughter spent every morning of Christmas break writing mock exams in English and Maths. In my defence, the blame for that lies squarely with her teachers who sent the class home with stacks of practice exams to prepare them for the real ones taking place this month and which will determine what secondary school she’ll attend next September.
Secretly, I share my daughter’s feelings about exams, not least because of the stress they impose on children and parents alike. Besides, I don’t necessarily believe they present an accurate measurement of a child’s actual abilities. I don’t tell my daughter this; instead, I cheer her on: “you can do it,” “it’s almost over,” “one more exam, just one” and so on.
The 11-year old is a fan of JK Rowling and knows everything there is to know about the Harry Potter books. If only the exams had questions not about maths and verbal reasoning, but about Hogwarts, Quidditch, Horcruxes and Care of Magical Creatures, she’d easily pass with flying colours.
Meanwhile, her younger sister keeps complaining about not getting as much attention from her mean parents as her older sibling.
“It’s like I don’t even exist,” she says, a wounded expression on her face as she stomps off to her room to play with her enormous collection of Sylvanian Families. She doesn’t realise that she’s the lucky one, that her sister would gladly swap places with her if she could. No one wants to spend their free time doing English comprehension and fractions.
“I wish I had the gift of dyslexia too,” the 7-year old confides to me at bedtime.
“I’m not sure your sister thinks of it as a gift,” I answer.
“But you and daddy got a book called the gift of dyslexia,” she insists. Anything her big sister has, she also wants.
Life is unfair when you’re the younger sibling. Not to mention how unfair it is to be the older sibling.
As a parent, I just can’t win.